Fast Food Foodies

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
It's a twist on the meaning of fast food...you'll have something to gain from this, I promise. ;)

Submitted: March 24, 2009

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Submitted: March 24, 2009

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“We artists, see, we’re an exceptional crowd,” murmurs Bee as he scrapes a can of paint across the tired wooden floor of his apartment and uses his Swiss Army knife to pop the lid open.

He is standing in the middle of the room wearing only a tie and some stained, shredded cargo pants, his thin frame a stark outline against the dusky sunlight that filters through the naked window. Bee’s veins seem to stand out more than ever against his tawny skin, and I can see the sharp angles of his shoulder blades jutting out as he bends over the open can. His unkempt hair hangs like a fiery curtain across his damp forehead.

He grips the edges of the metal can. The paint inside is day-glo green. From where I’m standing, it seems to radiate energy, reflecting off of Bee’s eager face and rippling excitedly as he pulls the can closer. He grasps his ankles and leans in towards it, deeply inhaling the pungent chemical odor.

“Mmm, yes,” he coos, “We do know how to catch the eye. Colors do amazing things even when you aren’t smoking.”

Bee dips his hands into the bucket and closes his eyes for a second, and I can tell, just because I’ve known him for so long, that he is trying to burn the feeling into his memory: the raw, sloppy, familiar feeling of liquid immersing your hands, slipping in between your fingers, staining the surface of dry flesh--of thirsty flesh.


He lunges upwards in a sudden, violent motion and throws his handfuls of paint onto the waiting canvas by the wall. Fwap! It makes a thick, wet sound as it hits the fabric, forming a perfect, solitary fluorescent streak.

“We make things loud,” he says, and his eyes are shining as he turns to me. “And then the world is forced to listen.”

*****


Most people think Bee is crazy, and I guess to an extent they’re right. He grows his own vegetables, which are just as scrawny as he is, from a dumpy garden patch in the back of his tiny apartment lot, and insists on eating every meal with at least two lemon-flavored throat lozenges, claiming the vapors “clear up the ‘blue’ gas in his head.” He spends Sunday afternoons in his studio, hunched over a sewing machine, making his own clothes. All of them are cut from ridiculous patterned materials that he must go through hell to find, and when he finally cranks out a pair of pants or a meticulously embroidered shirt—Warhol 60s style—the sensation you get when looking at him makes you feel as if you’ve just smoked a crapload of weed.

He has an uncanny resemblance to a young Iggy Pop, before he got weird and leathery. His copious hair is dyed an outrageous shade of red and it’s always a mess. And he has ADD--which means he is always starting new sentences in the middle of a thought, has a terminal case of the jitters, and walks as if he’s dancing. His phobias range from little girls and gray fingernail polish to computers and modern technology, and Bee has more superstitions and crude sayings to share than the most hardcore of sailors.

I can hardly complain, though. After all, there aren’t many people you get the chance to meet in one lifetime who can appear publicly looking like they’ve just strolled out of a dream, munching on saltine-cracker and marmalade sandwiches without a care in the world.

Bee took me in when I was 21, fresh out of school and fresh out of options. I’d run away from college, away from the books, the nightly study struggles, the constant coursework and plans for the future, the incessant droning of lecture after lecture. What I’d really wanted was to live like the homeless: hard and fast and free, no strings attached, riding on whatever opportunity presented itself to me, starving, nearly dying; taunting all the civilized folk from the fringes of society. I wanted to be rid of institutions and expectations and the limits of money. In my naivety and idealism, I thought life on the streets would be a journey of self-discovery. I could be something.

On the first day, I almost got mugged, and as the next few weeks wore on, my emergency food supply gradually dwindled, I tried to call my mother and was hung up on, and I discovered that my bank account had been not-so-mysteriously cancelled.

After a month of living under my new identity, I had just about had enough. I thought I was going to go crazy, thinking about all the things I’d given up and the way I could never return to what I’d left behind. I thought I was the stupidest kid on the whole planet.

I was sitting beside a dumpster where I figured no one could find me, smothering myself in alternating fits of self-pity and self-loathing, and I was so hungry that I couldn’t see straight. Bee appeared out of nowhere beside me, and it took me a few moments to actually register his presence.

“Go away,” I said. “I don’t want any trouble.” But he didn’t, so I finally turned to look at him.

The first thing I noticed was that one of his eyes was green and the other was blue, and that there was a smear of purple paint on his cheek. He wasn’t smiling but I could tell he wanted to, which made me uneasy. He must have seen the bewilderment flash over my features because he drew back a little and then squatted beside me, holding up his palms in a gesture of peace.

“All I wanted to say,” he whispered quickly, “is that I think fast food is taking over the world. And you don’t look as if you’d mind having a piece of that epidemic right about now.”

My stomach leapt up into my throat in response, and I stared at him disbelievingly. Such kindness was rare.


“Are you offering to buy me lunch?” I asked frankly, raising my eyebrows.

He didn’t say anything at first. His eyes flickered.

“Not lunch,” he replied with a grin. He took my hand and pulled me to my feet.

“A big old piece of America slapped smack dab in the middle of two burger buns.”

*****


Bee’s new art trend was fast food, I found out. He was convinced it was going to be the downfall of modern man, and I was thankful for his conviction—it was getting me fed for free.

Whenever we went into a McDonald’s or a Burger King, we had a set routine. We would go late at night, when there weren’t many customers milling about to give us dirty looks. Bee would send me in with a couple of dollars and orders on what to buy, while he stole over to the condiments section by the bathrooms in the back like some kind of cat burglar, stuffing countless packets of sugar, mustard, and ketchup into his fake leather messenger bag. Sometimes he would cop a few plastic salt and pepper shakers if he was feeling lucky; once he took an entire two serving trays. Then, snatching one last handful of drinking straws, he would nod at me and we would make a quick exit. We must have made a strange pair to the drivers in the cars that sped past us on the intersection nearby, Bee with the look of a man who has just conquered a nation, and I trailing in his shadow, meekly trying not to make a pig of myself as I downed mouthfuls of meat and cheese.

We would get to his apartment and he would immediately get to work. Bee would pull out this massive blue tarp he kept rolled up behind the overstuffed sofa, hastily spreading it across the threshold of the living room, and then he would throw down a sheet of cheap balsa wood and dump the spoils of the night out upon the floor. I would hesitantly hand over the two or so bags of cheeseburgers he had ordered along with my meal, already grieving the loss of so many wholesome calories, and without pause he would begin to tear all the wrappers off, one by one, until he had a neat row of burgers lined up by the spilled condiments.


I remember it even now, the way Bee would pause with this intense artistic fervor just before the storm of creation: his body would become stiff and hard as he held his head down, his long fingers twitching, his lashes dark against his cheek as he squeezed his eyes shut. Being the type of artist Bee was hurt. The way he made his soul a conduit for his thoughts, it was pure and unadulterated pain. It was the kind of passion that kept him awake for countless nights even when he was bone-tired, that made his skin tingle with restlessness when he tried to rest, that made him want to explode. It was a passion that grew off of its host’s suffering.

And then he would dive into work, his movements sharp and jerky like an animal’s as he tried to keep up with the visions in his head. He made everything imaginable: mosaics out of pieces of cups, swirling salt and pepper images. He even made a surprisingly realistic cow head out of clay, looking as if it had been freshly decapitated, and superglued it to a plate on a stolen tray along with all the other fast-food meal necessities: a hefty cup of fizzy soda, a napkin, a McNuggets box, a Happy Meal knick knack. Scary shit.

Once, he spoke to me while he was working. Only once.

“These burgers,” he said quietly, pausing to rip a sugar packet open with his teeth, “are made from cows that live to be three years old and weigh as much as their mothers. They’re made from the blood of immigrant workers who are too tired half the time to handle their gutting knives. We are drinking gallons of blood. Of our own fuckin’ blood.” He sprinkled the sugar over a gaudy caricature he’d made of Ronald McDonald. The clown he depicted there was quite a bit more sinister than the real one: he had squinty, bead like eyes with exaggerated, upside-down crosses through them, thick, bruised-looking lips and exposed internal organs that were swollen with decay. The organs were made of bits of dry meat and spray paint, and the path of food through the body was marked out by pieces of cut-up straws, beginning at Ronald’s condiment-packet teeth and ending at a tombstone near his ass.

“Gastric bypass, liposuction, heart disease, morbid obesity. That was all Greek to me twenty-someodd years ago. I mean, shit. Our blood isn’t gonna run in the streets when we all croak. It’s gonna clot, it’s so loaded with fat cells.” Bee stopped talking abruptly, as if he was merely turning a faucet and decreasing the word flow to a few drips. His face softened; his expression became pensive, almost sad.

“Kids don’t even ride their bikes anymore. I mean, what the hell? Not even one kid on a skateboard. We all just sit on our fat asses and eat eat eat. At a restaurant, at the mall, on a family night on the town down in Wendy’s. It’s the American way,” he laughed mirthlessly, and his voice was a bit higher, a bit faster when he continued.

“Everything’s faster, y’know? Cheaper, bigger, easier, sleazier. No one has to work for shit anymore, y’know, the simple living, dollar living, we got it good--all that grandiose bullshit.”

He paused again, slapping his ketchup-smothered hands onto Ronald’s chubby cheeks. He wanted to show the world how ugly fast food was by depicting it in the most horrifying way possible. I already felt more than a little queasy from ingesting the stuff. I liked it less and less. I was starting to understand.

Caught red-handed, I thought. I’m becoming a Bee clone.

Somewhere far off, I heard Bee still talking. His words were stumbling, running into each other.

“Just another way for the corporates to roll in the dough. Growing fat off the lifestyle. It was better when we were addicted to drugs. And those goddamned paper bags. God. They’re everywhere. They’re in the fucking gutters. And, and, these franchises cropping up in the middle of rice paddy fields in China, just everywhere, people flooding the place like Uncle Sam himself is handing out freedom to the masses. Fuck the Statue of Liberty, fuck amber waves of grain. We might as well say the pledge of allegiance to Mickey D’s golden arches.”

As if to finish his scathing review of American society, Bee took a sketch pencil from behind his ear and punched a hole into Ronald’s enormous cranium. He slathered angry flares and blasts of ketchup with shreds of a ripped up dollar bill in it out of the bursting wound.

I was too uneasy to stick around. I got up from where I’d been lying on the floor, shucking off my holey blanket, and I left Bee alone to nurse his fury--alone to come face to face with the monster he was slowly coaxing into existence.

*****


Bee has a tumor in his brain, and there is no way to get it out. There never will be a way to get it out.

He found out exactly seven months ago, when it was spring and color was just beginning to come back to the pale city. When he came home from the doctor he ripped up three of his good canvases and shattered jars of turpentine on the floor. The sound of breaking glass punctured the heavy, late morning silence and little liquid explosions glittered blindingly in the sunlight, beautifully, like champagne as they hit the floor. The breeze that drifted in from the open window smelled wet and earthy, mixing strangely with the odor of turpentine. It played with the torn fibers of his slashed canvases as they sat in the corner of the room, dejected, betrayed.

Why build when I can destroy? he said to me, in hysterics. I’ll be just like this one day. Spilled. Broken. Gone!

I didn’t believe him. I was still thinking that I would always sit there on my ratty blanket watching Bee make art: watching him move with the rhythms of paintbrushes, watching him sweat and his muscles tense as he tried to create something flawless.

*****


“We’re gettin’ into the homestretch, eh?” Bee says, and smiles.

He rips open another packet of ketchup and begins to dab it around the petrified beef patty and tufts of white bread on his brand new canvas, smearing the sticky, sweet-smelling condiment in increasingly erratic circles until the packet runs out. Then he reaches back into the pile, and rips open another, this time mustard.

“You know, years from now,” he says, shoving his hair out of his face and wiping the sweat off on his thigh, “Years from now, after we all blow up like balloons and explode, after the grease and the lard have had their 5 minutes of fame, people are gonna find this shit right here. This message. Stuff from a guy everyone thought was crazy, some lame-ass who lived and died without anyone ever knowing his name. They’ll find all my canvases, right here, collecting dust...” He trails off, letting his shoulders relax. His eyes are half-lidded and distant as he thinks.

“They’re gonna find all this shit, and it’s gonna be like when we found the first cave paintings. Like reading a history book. They’re gonna know where it all began; where the seed for corruption was planted. How I tried to warn people. How I...” Bee shakes his head slightly, searching for what to say, as if reciting his last words. “How I tried to warn people,” he repeats simply, anticlimactically.

Then he reaches for a soda cup and sucks up some of the fizzing Coca Cola inside with a straw. He swishes it around for a minute before spitting it out onto the canvas, and then leans back to observe the effect, his face gaunt, angular. As he grips the plastic cup again, I see his wrist shaking, his knuckles turning white.


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